I DECLARE WAR Movie Review
Within a matter of minutes I was transported back to a moment of time when my adolescent comrades and I would retreat to the woods on a bright summer afternoon, armed to the teeth with pretend guns and hyper- active imaginations where anything we could imagine would happen and a day lasted for eternity. The most trivial things were all that mattered and the bigger issues were beyond our understanding. We were slaves to our emotions and our loyalties could switch allegiance without rhyme or reason. Canadian filmmakers Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson have transcended the wonder of blissful youth in I Declare War.
The rules of this intense battle of capture the flag are shown in an animated sequence over the credits, right after we are dropped right in the middle of this intense war between rivaling youths. The rules become clear as the action unfolds later on, so don’t be discouraged if they initially pass you by. There are two teams with equal stakes and one of them is lead by PK, a kid who knows his war strategy backwards and forwards from studying historic battles and watching Patton. He’s got an undefeated streak that he takes pride in and has no plans on giving up his bragging rights. His best friend Kwon has been captured in enemy territory, making matters all the more personal. It’s up to PK’s squadron of victory-hungry soldiers to save their mate and their leader’s reputation. These characters range from disturbing and surreal with super powered abilities to the silent tracker with his canine companion, making swift ambushes and showing no mercy. Things are a bit more complicated with the other side. When we meet the other leader Quinn, who’s charming demeanor has captivated the heart of the only female soldier.
Jess is being lightly cross examined about her motivations and intentions as she innocently tries to win over her crush. To Quinn’s surprise, they are interrupted as the ruthless second in command has brought back a prisoner. This doesn’t sit well with Quinn and he attempts to discipline Skinner. Before Quinn can blink an eye, he’s abruptly pelted with a red fiulled balloon and loses his chain of command to the ruthless Skinner.
There’s great attention to detail brought to these children, who are completely believable while still maintaining their stock character sensibilities. Everything they know about death, they’ve picked up from war films. This leads to fun opportunities that get taken advantage of in mock combat. Every character is fleshed out in their own way and have natural chemistry with one another. Everyone eventually gets the spotlight and executes their moments for legit emotional impact. The villian is great because he knows how to bend the rules and uses that to his full agenda filled advantage. Skinner is fueled by rejection and his jealousy of PK and sinks low enough to use cruel torture or the occasional psychological interrogation. His weakness is displayed when he attempts to manipulate Jess to use her gender as a weapon, who’s three steps ahead of him and everyone else. She not only outsmarts him but leads him to believe that he’s in complete control. Skinner is fueled by his jealousy and hatred but they also distract him and turn him sadistic. The imaginative visuals of combat shown is as real to our eyes as it is to these soldiers. The emotional stakes raise much higher in retrospect. The lunacy of our antagonist has channeled Col. Kurtz desperately using unpredictable methods that bubble underneath the surface.
There’s a timeless quality to the way references are subtly made to a time long past. None of these proceedings are necessarily meant to be taken as a lesson in sociology, there is no heavy symbolism hinting at misguided aggression or desensitization to violence. Everything is a pretty straight glimpse at life before cynisism comes into the equation. The arbitrary matters lend an authenticity that I haven’t seen since Stand By Me. Memories of inferiority and immortality are brought to life, as is the humiliation of growth and the feelings of power struggle rooted in our forgotten subconscious. Treachery, deceitfulness, anxiety and ignorrance is all there in day dreams of exotic locations. Learning strategy from the unlikeliest of places and discovering skills we never knew existed. Everything is here to see, from frustrating pain and confusion to innocent wonder and fun. This is bold truth that only comes in our imagination.